On my recent trip to Texas, I made a stop at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth) to survey the campus and speak with faculty. I regularly entertain the desire to study at seminary level and Southwestern is definitely on my shortlist for many practical, as well as theological reasons. My friend Billy, who is a student there, guided me around the beautiful campus and was even able to introduce me to Dr. Steven Smith, who is the Dean of the College and Professor of Preaching. Not only was Dr. Smith a very friendly and accessible guy, but he was also someone who brought me great encouragement as a preacher. This was because Smith is a loud and vocal advocate on the evangelical landscape for a return to expository preaching. This is very much showcased in his recently released book, "Dying To Preach". The title has a double meaning referring both to the fact that preachers should have both a burning desire to preach coupled with a dying to self in order that Christ may be magnified.
In this book, Smith diagnoses and remedies one of the major plagues that has infected many modern evangelical churches - an abandonment of Scriptural foundations and a steady drift towards consumer driven philosophy. Smith sums up the disease in this brief, yet thorough statement:
When the context of preaching is more important than the content of preaching, then the context becomes the content itself (p51).
Think about that comment! We see this problem everywhere today from seeker sensitive Elvis impersonators, to second rate worship bands playing "cutting edge" 80's music, to the postmodern insanity of the emergent movement where propositional truth is despised. For the duration of the book, the reader is repeatedly bombarded with the solution - to preach messages that orbit around the biblical text. Smith's adherence to, and relentless advocacy of, expository preaching is to be commended. When something is of first importance then it usually needs to be repeatedly hammered into my skull until my mind starts to undergo renewal. There are many seeker sensitive mega church pastors that should ignore their pragmatic church growth manuals and get themselves a copy of Dying To preach. Smith goes on to say that:
It is necessary that the preacher not preach himself but Christ only. The unbeliever is in the dark; Christ turns the light on, and proclamation is used by God in the process of illumination. Therefore the damnable sin of the preacher is to put anything before people less than the message of Christ, the Word (p73).
These are sobering and convicting words. As a preacher who lives in the constant war zone between my spirit and my flesh, I have to be ever vigilant against my carnal cravings for recognition and applause. And this hazard is subtle because it can also manifest when we:
Decide that our desire not to have any attention drawn to us is more important than the people understanding the text. Therefore we never take any risk in the pulpit and defer to our covert pride that is masked as shyness (p75 emphasis mine).
Dying to Preach is also a strong apologetic against the prevailing evangelical wind of preaching moralizing stories, particularly from the Old Testament. Smith forcefully teaches the necessity of preaching Christ from ALL of Scripture:
Christ understood that the witness of the Old Testament was a revelation of Himself . . . therefore, there is not a text that one can preach that will not ultimately point to Christ. The point is not that every text is about Jesus as a person. Rather, the point is that every text fits somewhere in the history of salvation. And, the point of the history of salvation ultimately is to exalt Christ (p94).
It is also pleasing to see that a book that has so much precious insight into a biblical understanding of the who/what/how with preaching, also has fervent adherence to preaching the cross rightly with the transcendent emphasis on Penal Substitutionary Atonement:
At the risk of overstatement, I will go so far as to say that in certain contexts the statement "Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin" is not true. It is not that a core truth does not exist; rather, the problem is that in the statement's failure to carry the glorious meaning of the theological truth, it emasculates the statement to the point of falsehood . . . The indictment of contemporary preaching is not that it says wrong things but that it does not say right things clearly (p126 emphasis his).
Smith takes time to delve into the critical word "propitiation" and strongly advocates the traditional reformed understanding. I am hopeful that the author has an acute awareness of the sinister stealth attacks against this doctrine by several so called "respected evangelical theologians" - one of whom has the initials NT and always thinks he's Wright.
If you are dying to preach the Gospel, then get your hands on a copy of Dying To Preach.
DYING TO PREACH
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Drawing inspiration from the seminal preacher, the apostle Paul, Steven W. Smith takes a fresh look not just at the how of preaching, but at the whys. In 2 Corinthians 4:12, Paul describes the philosophy of his ministry as “death in us, but life in you.” Building on this scriptural framework, Steve Smith illustrates the theology of preaching through the metaphor of vicarious suffering, dying so that others might live. As he elaborates the intersection of the cross and the pulpit, Smith shows why the preacher must die to self, die for others, and die in Christ so that congregations may live.